Donald Trump Ordered to Pay The New York Times and Its Reporters nearly $400,000 in Legal Fees

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in New York.

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump was ordered Friday to pay nearly $400,000 in legal fees to The New York Times and three investigative reporters after he sued them unsuccessfully over a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2018 story about his family’s wealth and tax practices.

The newspaper and reporters Susanne Craig, David Barstow and Russell Buettner were dismissed from the lawsuit in May. Trump’s claim against his estranged niece, Mary Trump, that she breached a prior settlement agreement by giving tax records to the reporters is still pending.

New York Judge Robert Reed said that given the “complexity of the issues” in the case and other factors, it was reasonable that Donald Trump be forced to pay lawyers for the Times and the reporters a total of $392,638 in legal fees.

“Today’s decision shows that the state’s newly amended anti-SLAPP statute can be a powerful force for protecting press freedom,” Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoads Ha said, referring to a New York law that bars baseless lawsuits designed to silence critics. Such lawsuits are known as SLAPPs or strategic lawsuits against public participation.

“The court has sent a message to those who want to misuse the judicial system to try to silence journalists,” Rhoads Ha said.

In a separate ruling Friday, Reed denied a request by Mary Trump – now the sole defendant – that the case be put on hold while she appeals his June decision that allowed Donald Trump’s claim against her to proceed.

Mary Trump’s lawyers declined comment.

Donald Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, said they remain disappointed that the Times and its reporters were dropped from the case. She said they are pleased that the court has “once again affirmed the strength of our claims against Mary and is denying her attempt to avoid accountability.”

“We look forward to proceeding with our claims against her,” Habba said.

Donald Trump’s lawsuit, filed in 2021, accused the Times and its reporters of relentlessly seeking out Mary Trump as a source of information and convincing her to turn over confidential tax records. He claimed the reporters were aware her prior settlement agreement barred her from disclosing the documents, which she’d received in a dispute over family patriarch Fred Trump’s estate.

The Times’ reporting challenged Donald Trump’s claims of self-made wealth by documenting how his father, Fred Trump, had given him at least $413 million over the decades, including through tax avoidance schemes. Mary Trump identified herself in a book published in 2020 as the source of the documents.

The Times’ story said that Donald Trump and his father avoided gift and inheritance taxes by methods including setting up a sham corporation and undervaluing assets to tax authorities. The Times says its report was based on more than 100,000 pages of financial documents, including confidential tax returns for the father and his companies.

Donald Trump, who sought $100 million in damages, alleged Mary Trump, the Times and the reporters “were motivated by a personal vendetta” against him. He accused them of engaging “in an insidious plot to obtain confidential and highly sensitive records which they exploited for their own benefit.”

In dismissing the Times and its reporters from the lawsuit, Reed wrote that legal news gathering is “at the very core of protected First Amendment activity.”

Mary Trump, 58, is the daughter of Donald Trump’s brother, Fred Trump Jr., who died in 1981 at age 42. She is an outspoken critic of her uncle, whom she has regarded as “criminal, cruel and traitorous.”

In July, Mary Trump filed a counterclaim against Donald Trump under New York’s anti-SLAPP law, arguing that Donald Trump’s lawsuit was “purely retaliatory and lacking in merit” and intended to “chill her and others from criticizing him in the future.”